Archive for Greyfriars Bobby: The Story of a Dog

The Hepburn-RKO-J.M. Barrie Axis of Whimsy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2013 by dcairns

Two J.M. Barrie adaptations, filmed at RKO, starring Katherine Hepburn, QUALITY STREET and THE LITTLE MINISTER.

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THE LITTLE MINISTER, directed by Richard Wallace, is set in Barrie’s native Scotland and showcases Kate’s Bryn Mawr version of a Highland burr. Several real Scots provide doughty support — Andy Clyde is particularly enjoyable, and Sherlock Holmes regulars Alec Craig (in his first movie role, according to the IMDb) and Mary Gordon make welcome appearances. Donald Crisp looks exactly as he did thirty years later in GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY, but sounds different — he nailed the accent sometime in the intervening years.

But why no James Finlayson?

Poor John Beal struggles with the R-rolling, and is blown off the screen by Hepburn in gypsy drag. Flashes of authentic Scottish scenery, including brief use of the zoom lens (quite popular at RKO at this time — see also KING KONG).

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QUALITY STREET is, we thought, the superior production. Never mind that Barrie’s conceit, Hepburn scrubbing up and impersonating a fictitious younger relative to fool Franchot Tone, even though Tone knows perfectly well what she looks like, is unworkable on-screen (suspension of disbelief and the perpetual long-shot would sell it on stage). Never mind that the whole cast is doing convincing English accents except tone-deaf Tone. Enjoy the Napoleonic era gadgets (women’s veils which swish open on a drawstring like net curtains, English geisha shoes for walking in the rain) and the dialogue and performances and director George Stevens’ elegant, witty framing.

In the prologue, Hepburn is disappointed in love as her beau decides to go off to the wars — she sits by the window with her aunt, and the Greenaway-symmetry does something expressive and very un-Greenawayesque: it captures their resignation to staying unmarried for life. Possibly while sitting in the window.

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The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Tenth

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by dcairns

Just re-reading the 1910 installment of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and reading for the first time the new 1969 episode, and am surprised to find a “Mr. Simon Iff” in it — this being a character from Aleister Crowley’s novel The Moonchild, a stand-in for the Great Beast himself. One of Moore’s amusing conceits is to suggest that all film & literature’s pseudo-Crowleys — Oliver Haddo in THE MAGICIAN, Julian Karswell in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, Mocato in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and the suspiciously-similar Adrian Marcato in ROSEMARY’S BABY (remind me to do a whole piece on the occult significance of names in the movie) — are the same person, endlessly faking his own death and reinventing himself via metempsychosis — a word from Ulysses which Moore doesn’t use but which popped into my head due to the fact that I’m reading Joyce. 

Anyhow — this week’s installment of my inexplicably unproduced feature script sees us visit a location familiar to movie buffs: GREYFRIARS BOBBY: THE STORY OF A DOG and THE BODY SNATCHER recreated the place on sound stages, while THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE shot there for real. 

The idea of a surreal intermission is clearly swiped from Lester’s HELP! and the line inscribed on a tree is from HELLZAPOPPIN! so I must have been invoking Hel, Norse goddess of the underworld, for this appropriately funereal episode. 

Now read on…

EXT. GREYFRIARS CHURCHYARD – NIGHT

The little bronze statue of feared hound “Greyfriars Bobby” is garlanded with onions and adorned with a suspicious rabbinical beard.

The shadowy figure of If sweeps through the ancient cemetery scattering Scots Porridge Oats from a packet.

MR. IF

By the Endymion moon above, arise, my proud beauties! In the shadow of the bronze pup, I give life to these clay puddings.

Mist rises from the ground in an unnatural manner.

MR. IF

Get born, you terpsichorean terrors! Your master calls you, with whistle and lyre!

He blows on a silent dog whistle and strums a washboard.

A slender feminine hand bursts through the lawn at his feet.

MR. IF

That’s it, Pansy! This world welcomes careless girlies! The night is young and we’re all so beautiful!

Two more hands spring forth, clutching at the night air.

MR. IF

Come, Prancer, come Fido, come Barbara and Steve! Come Nervo, come Brando, come Compo and Spock!

Six young BALLERINAS in dog masks emerge from the earth.

MR. IF

My Borzoi Ballet! Our bridal gowns shall be plywood and paint. In a chariot of frozen milk drawn by four daffodils, we shall storm St. Giles’ Cathedral and force the city rat catcher to pronounce us man and wives. But first, a word from our sponsors.

He thrusts his porridge pack at us and we CUT TO:

EXT. GREYFRIARS CHURCHYARD – DAY

PRIEST

Amen.

A group of MOURNERS, many of them in police uniform, including a squad standing in formation with rifles.

The PRIEST is in full drone.

PRIEST

…although Inspector Shinty’s life was not so much cut short, as prolonged beyond all reason…

DI. Turner and Mr. Netherbow are among the group.

Netherbow, hat clamped on head, sneaks a look at his watch.

Turner spots a cloaked figure lurking behind a tree. Squinting, he sees that it is just a tattered black bin liner caught in the branches. He smiles ruefully.

PRIEST

…with the full ceremonial honours befitting an officer of his extraordinarily long service.

MR. NETHERBOW

And speaking of extraordinarily long services…

The squad raise their rifles and fire into the air as one.

As if in reply, a harpoon WHUNGS out from behind the bin bag tree, and a policeman crumples, impaled.

The squad turns as one man and blasts away at the tree. Branches and chunks of bark fly through the air as half the tree is destroyed.

At length the guns fall silent and Turner hurries over to the shattered elm.

Rounding the tree, Turner finds a spray-painted graffita written down the length of the trunk:

HA HA YOU MISSED ME YOU NEED GLASSES.

Trotting over to the grave side, Turner finds Netherbow kneeling by the slain copper. The curator is examining a slip of PARCHMENT attached to the harpoon. His pinched face is a study of superstitious terror.

MR. NETHERBOW

“Egg tower mouth doo go jet wren.”

High in the branches of the bullet-ridden tree… high, high up…no, higher… that’s it: a bird’s nest. In it, an egg. Closer. The egg cracks open to reveal a brass dog statuette.

A melodramatic LAUGH echoes as we go to:

TITLE: INTERMISSION.

Scratchy black and white film stock of hands working at a Potter’s Wheel. The hands gently shape the blob of wet clay until it has formed an approximation of an erect male organ.

TITLE: WE NOW RETURN YOU TO THE MAIN PROGRAMME.

EXT. GREYFRIAR’S CHURCHYARD – DAY

Netherbow and Turner stand over the slaughtered cop.

MR. NETHERBOW

Monstrous insolence! The fiend!

PRIEST

And I thought the service had gone rather well until…

TURNER

Don’t blame yourself, Father. Still, I wonder what that note means…

INT. COMPUTER ROOM, EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY – EVENING

The Prof examines an unusual computer printout. Strange.

PROF

I wonder what it means…

The binary data is arranged to form a picture of a hen.

A distant barnyard CACKLE echoes…

To be continued…

Albert Whitlock’s Edinburgh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2010 by dcairns

Looking down on an artificial Greyfriars Kirk, with an artificial Castle behind it.

To entertain Fiona’s brother, Roddy, we screened Disney’s GREYFRIARS BOBBY: THE TRUE STORY OF A DOG, and wound up being hugely entertained ourselves. A surprisingly sophisticated, authentic and somewhat dark tale, it takes liberties with the historical record but serves up a rather neat tale. Don Chaffey directed, and the cast included Lawrence Naismith, one of Chaffey’s original Argonauts, as well as Donald Crisp, the bloke who bludgeoned Lillian Gish to death in BROKEN BLOSSOMS, and the face at the window that terrified Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR. Both gents were superb.

The titular dog (given the Val Lewton treatment here) runs away from Gordon Jackson’s farm to follow his master, an aging crofter (Alex MacKenzie, THE MAGGIE, wonderfully moving) to Edinburgh. A city of torrential rain and loud drunks, then as now. The whole first act is watching this simple old man die, refusing a doctor. Impressively dour stuff for a family show. When MacKenzie’s buried, the dog refuses to leave his grave at night, and gradually the two old men who have tried to make Bobby behave like a normal domestic animal give in and help him to achieve his own lifestyle choice. For the dog is just as stubborn and difficult (in Scots we say “thrawn”) as his master was.

Kids appear, of course, played by the future editor of Paris Vogue, Joan Juliet Buck, and the talented Vincent Winter, who won a special Oscar for his role in THE KIDNAPPERS. Special Oscars were for children, cripples, and black people, you see. Winter’s co-star and co-winner, Jon Whiteley, went on to star in Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET and Roy Ward Baker’s THE SPANISH GARDNER. THE KIDNAPPERS is a fantastically charming affair, with one of the worst soundtracks I’ve ever heard, an insistent barrage of inappropriate noise (hang your head, Bruce Montgomery), whereas GB:TTSOAD has a lovely score by Francis Chagrin, possibly his career high point.

The artificial Grassmarket viewed from the artificial Cowgate.

And I love imaginary landscapes, so I was delighted to see my home city turned into a series of them, courtesy of Albert Whitlock’s matte paintings. Very much an authentic portrayal of the 19th-century capital: it was even disappointing when they used an occasional location shot. The matte paintings are augmented by Michael Stringer’s stylised sets, which use forced perspective and big backdrops and are thoroughly charming. He even builds a convincing replica of Greyfriars Kirkyard, the original of which can be seen here. I immediately looked him up to see what else he’d done, and found A SHOT IN THE DARK. I have fond memories of Herbert Lom’s office in that one, with a view out the window of a miniature Paris. This is one of the benefits of being a Parisian police chief: they give you a miniature city, so you can step out the window and rampage like Kong, or just tower over it all like Fantomas. It’s a wonder Lom’s so frustrated when his job comes with a perk like that.

This angle delights me because, even though there’s no reason for it to be a painting, it is.

There was a recent version of the tale, not an official remake but another riff off the historical account, and my costume designer friend from CRY FOR BOBO, Ali Mitchell, worked on it. When she saw John Landis’s BURKE AND HARE recently she was able to spot much of the same costumery hired for BOBBY, and a few things she’d had made herself. I like spotting props and stuff reappearing in different films, but I’m not expert enough to identify costumes, normally — except all the FORBIDDEN PLANET gear that gets reused in QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE and a dozen other B-flicks.

Buy the original for your kids (better quality than my frame-grabs) ~

UK: Greyfriars Bobby [DVD] [1960]

USA: Greyfriars Bobby